In the studio: Dana Schutz, painter

'You know you want to do something different but you don't know what it is'

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The Independent Culture

American painter Dana Schutz has previously worked in close proximity with other artists, so it is a shock to find her ensconced in her own space, a former garage in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, New York.

The studio is long and thin with a half mezzanine where Schutz keeps her computer. She moved here two and a half years ago from the studio nearby she shared with, among others, her sculptor husband, Ryan Johnson. "I was curious about working alone. Moving here was great. Even when it was a garage it felt really good." Making the work, however, was not that easy. "You know you want to do something different but you don't know what it is. And it feels awful."

Schutz was born in 1976 in Livonia, Michigan (near Detroit) and studied at Yale University before getting her MFA at Columbia, where she still mentors a group of young artists. Today, she is surrounded by her colourful – bordering on lurid – paintings, some for a show in Berlin and others for the Hepworth Museum. Like Schutz herself, they crackle with energy, not only because of their bright clear colours but also their irrepressible forms.

She points at a series of large paintings in a row. "These are my proposals of God." This is not the traditionally held view of God, but, says Schutz, "I thought about what God could look like. I thought God was orange, a spiritual orange, and might look like Bob's Big Boy [the character of a popular American roadside restaurant], the Moon Figure [of Ray Charles] or Liberace." This may all sound far-fetched, but bear in mind that Schutz was the inventor of "self-feeders", characters that feasted off their own flesh.

The floor of her studio is littered with her palettes made of plastic wrap. Her practice of coming in every morning and mixing her colours first is a long-established habit. "At the end of the day, I run around and put them in the fridge hoping they will keep over night. I want to work all day and not stop to mix."

Dotted around are sheets of paper with images downloaded from the internet. A "hyper-colour" shirt from the 1970s that changes in the sunlight will clothe one of her characters in the large painting dominating the end wall of the studio. Books on artists from Max Beckmann, Picasso, Matisse and Marsden Hartley lie on the floor. "I was looking for palettes, and I found this painting by Hartley." She points at the fluffy clouds.

I comment on how the new single subject paintings are different in scale. She admits that "recently the paintings have changed. It is like rebuilding a house or something. There is a speed or an ease to it because you have done it." But just in case I think it is all too easy, she continues: "I wanted it to have the feeling that it was done really fast but then it was not…".

Dana Schutz, Hepworth, Wakefield ( to 26 January